Archive for 15 June 2011

Hey, How’s the Philippines?

15 June 2011

Good question. Rather than go Toqueville and write you a framework to understand a country that I’ve been in for two weeks, all I’ve got are snippets, observations and postcards:

The People
Filipinos really are just the nicest, most good-natured people on earth. Unfailingly friendly, agonizingly polite, and ever-ready to smile, the people I’ve encountered in Cebu seem to take endless delight in sharing a laugh with friends. And rather than the “Chinese laugh,” which is more often than not a facade over some kind of awkwardness or discomfort, the Cebuano laugh is a genuine laugh at the hilarity of the world and the joy of sharing it.

The Food
The food here is very, very heavy. The extent of the cuisine can be divided among four food groups: seafood (baked scallops, fried squid, noodles in shrimp paste, barbecued fish with head attached), chicken (fried, barbecued, feet), rice (white, sticky), and pork. Pork in all its glorious forms: fried pork belly, grilled ribs slathered in sauce, sizzling diced pig “mask” served under a fried egg, entrails and other bits stuck on a stick and barbecued over an open coal fire by the side of the road.

And there is lechon– the national dish if there is one. A few nights ago I had dinner at a place that was having it’s “dry run” dinner service before their actual opening on Thursday. They have a very happy prancing pig as their logo, and a charred brown pig with its body carved to pieces on the counter. This is lechon: a slow-roasted whole pig, chopped into bits and chunks and served glistening in its own fat. The real delicacy is the skin, brown and crispy, more decadent than bacon.  I ate half a kilo.

The Language
Tagalog is the language of Manila, but nobody speaks it in Cebu. Cebuano, rather, is the language of the Central Visayas. Spoken, the language is sprinkled with English and words that sound an awful lot like Spanish. Many people also speak (and to a greater extent, understand) English. Sometimes I hear kids talking to their parents or each other in flawless English.  For the most part, people here speak a peculiar kind of English that is heavily accented but highly colloquial. Thanks is probably due to the American entertainment industry, which pervades.

The Pervs
One of the more uncomfortable (repugnant might be the better word) parts of living here is belonging to an ethno-racial group dominated by fat, bald, weather-beaten, red-faced old men who’ve come to the ‘pines to find a wife (that being the charitable interpretation).  I feel like a creep by association. I see them walking around with girls 40 years their junior and I try to give them the benefit of the doubt– perhaps they’re born pedophiles, who, rather than succumb to their vile nature, come here for a girlfriend who’s 19 and looks 14. And while I’ve been solicited by prostitutes all over the world, the favored product of the local street hawkers is new to me: small boxes of Cialis & Viagra.

The Public Transit


The Gays
I can’t really speak to the rest of the country on this, but Cebu has to be one of the most gay-friendly cities on earth. At the clinic where I work, many of the male staff are gay and out, and around the city, gay bars abound while meeting a transexual is as ordinary as noodles for breakfast. In the words of one colleague, “It’s really just not a very big deal here.”  All this is especially remarkable given that this is a devoutly Catholic country.  Abortion, for example, is illegal (though currently under debate in Manila). But the gays can do their thing. Update: It’s worth noting, I think, that despite the country’s remarkable tolerance toward homosexuality, there is no gay marriage, and it’s not very likely to happen anytime soon.  Also, as another illustration of the traditional Catholic nature of this country, the Philippines is one of the few countries where divorce is still illegal (though this, too, is under public debate).

The Gambling
Filipinos love to gamble. Slot machines, bingo, lottery tickets, cockfighting– you name it. And if you’re watching a sporting event, the first question from a stranger is not “who are you for” but “who did you put your money on?” My colleague Dave came dancing into the office last week, celebrating the thousand pesos he’d won picking the Mavs over the Heat in game 3 of the NBA Finals.

Let me know what else you’re wondering about, and I’ll tell you all about it. Also forthcoming: pictures of the various meats described above.